Dedicated singers ease the journey home

NOTE: This story ran in the Catholic Free Press on October 21, 2016 in their Bereavement supplement.

Each Wednesday afternoon, eighteen men and women gather at the Congregational Church in Westborough to rehearse songs for performance. They have come from various churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Westborough, Northborough and Marlborough. Some come from the Westborough Community Chorus and the Assabet Valley Master Singers. The performances for which they rehearse are however, not meant for entertainment.

(L to R) Jim Nolan, Mary Beland and John McCann are members of the Journey Home Singers and all are members of the St. Luke the Evangelist choir in Westborough, MA. Beland invited both men to join the Journey Home Singers.

The Journey Home Singers sing in homes, hospitals and nursing homes to hospice patients. “Our intention is to bring comfort, beauty, caring and compassion with our singing to anyone who wants us to visit,” said Kathy Todd, director of the Journey Home Singers.

Todd started the group in June of 2009 after attending a singing workshop in the Berkshires. During that gathering, flyers were distributed for a workshop involving hospice singing. Todd was immediately intrigued, inspired by her own personal experience with caring for a dying sister.

“We started [the Journey Home Singers] in June of 2009, which was about six months after my oldest sister died,” recalls Todd. “My sister Martha had been ill with COPD for several years, and had just entered hospice care at her home in August 2008. On August 19 she fell and broke her hip and was taken to ICU at St. Vincent’s in Worcester. About a month later, doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for her, other than having her live attached to a ventilator. My youngest sister and I kept a vigil with her that night after she decided not to go with a ventilator. Time spent by her bedside was the first catalyst that led me to realize a vision that became the hospice choir.”

The workshop was run by Hallowell from Brattleboro, VT. Their mission is to offer support to the dying by bringing comfort, calm and beauty. After attending, Todd felt compelled to start a group. “I thought about it for a long time, I had no experience as a director,” she said. She decided to call her choir the Journey Home Singers, inspired by a song she heard at the workshop, “Angels Hovering Round”: “We’re on our journey home…”

Todd began her search for members, beginning with her choir at the Congregational Church in Westborough. She expanded that search to other church choirs and community choruses. Mary Beland, member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Choir in Westborough, was one of the first to join.

“I received notice from Betsy Sowers (a friend of Todd) that the Journey Home Singers was just being conceived and Kathy was searching around for singers to join,” said Beland who is also a member of the Assabet Valley Master Singers. Recently she invited fellow church choir members Jim Nolan and John McCann to join.

Once assembled, Todde sought to publicize the group. “I work for the Community Advocate (out of Northborough) and they were very supportive,” she said. The newspaper did a story on the Journey Home Singers in 2010 and granted Todd time off as needed to do the performances.

Because they seek to personalize their song selections for each patient, The Journey Home Singers offer a wide repertoire of songs taken from both Christian and Jewish traditions. Soon after the article ran, Todd connected with Mary Poole, once the hospice chaplain at Beaumont Nursing Home in Westborough who assisted Todd in in this effort by supplying the patient’s first name and last initial, faith tradition and condition (responsive/unresponsive).

Beland’s motivation for joining the group was similar to Todd’s. “I was already comfortable with the idea because I sat with my sister while she was dying. She and I shared the same love for music.” She knows that as a ministry, one may not always get feedback from a patient. “If you want applause, you might not get it,” she said.

Nolan feels it is a way to continue to have music in his life while helping others. He too understands that responses will vary although he has noted a “flutter of an eye, a tear, a raised hand” from those to whom he has sung.

McCann was motivated to join because of a rather involved experience he had years ago traveling to Guatemala with his then teenaged son only to return and discover that his brother had unexpectedly passed away. He recalled a moment when he was alone during the trip, surrounded by the wind, noting the quiet and sensing that something was happening.

“In Lo De Bran in the early afternoon, I was sitting alone by a well, on a wall. No one was near me. I was surrounded by a gentle soft warm wind which engulfed me. I felt a little different, but did not think much of it, other than it was very hot … I … felt a very quiet peace.”

When he learned when his brother had been stricken, he realized it had happened while he was sitting by that well. “The Good Lord kept Jim in our presence for three more days, allowing my son Aidan and me to return safely from Guatemala and to be with him. I could never explain how even in the horrors of Jim’s death that God can be so good so as to allow Aidan and me such special moments with Jim just before he died.” It was this experience that prompted McCann to minister to other such people through the Journey Home Singers.

Stories abound of experiences with patients. Todd recalls a man who kept a hymnal near his bedside but was unable to hold the book open due to his condition. “He was a singer – after one song, he joined in even though he really couldn’t hold the book. It made him so happy,” she said.

One experience involved a little girl. “We went into Boston Children’s Hospital to sing for a seven-year-old girl — one of our toughest. She was not conscious and had seizures three to four times a day. The whole family was there, so upbeat. They put their arms around her and sang to her – they would sing along with us,” recalls Beland.

The Journey Home Singers thus fulfills a much needed mission. “If can we talk about dying and be aware of our own death, we can become more comfortable with it and use the time have now in a much more effective, more beautiful way. We’ll live well,” says Todd.

If you are interested in joining The Journey Home Singers, you can contact Kathy Todd at or call 508-335-1043.




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“Bathe yourselves in mercy” in this Song of Divine Mercy based on St. Faustina’s writings

Following on the heels of Easter Sunday is the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Based on the writings of Saint Faustina, here is “Song of Divine Mercy”:

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Prayerful resources for your Lenten reflection

Lent is already well underway but perhaps you are still in need of ideas for your reflection. Click on any of the images below for blog posts, songs, videos podcast presentations and Flow Lesson exercises to enhance your Lenten experience:

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Do you have a particular spiritual practice that helps you draw closer to God? Please feel free to leave a comment and share–we can all use new suggestions!

And please–feel free to share on your social media:

twitter-graphic-transTweet: Here’s some great ideas for Lent–songs, videos, podcasts, prayerful exercises

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May you have a blessed Lent and a Happy Easter!


Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

Visit An Engaging Faith on Facebook.

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Life restored after a season of loss: “River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times” in word and song

This past Wednesday was a BIG day. This arrived in the mail …

river of grace books-640

cover front only for webBut that was not all. I also got the final mix of my soundtrack CD for River of Grace from the producer. And I have to say he really outdid himself. I sent him a text back with 7 hearts – one for each song!

It was one of those rare, extraordinary days that sends you into orbit and you just want to cling to that feeling forever. I will write about it in my journal so I can go back and bathe in that grace, that pure gift from God whenever discouragement knocks on my door.

Now, I would like to share what God gave to me with you.

00 cover drop shadowRiver of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times is a spiritual memoir that reveals how several major losses helped me rediscover creativity and faith. Published by Ave Maria Press, it is described as “Filled with powerful insights on the presence and action of grace–in the Mass and the sacraments, nature and grief, and even through the life and works of Louisa May Alcott–River of Grace guides readers in strengthening their faith, discovering their own hidden gifts and restoring a joy in living during and after tough times.” It contains lots of practical spiritual exercises called Flow Lessons that lead you there. (Some of the Flow Lessons are on this site–check them out here.)

Losing a part of yourself

One of the losses I experienced was that of my singing voice. Yet throughout the writing of River of Grace, I kept thinking of songs that would fit with each chapter. While writing the third chapter on the loss of my voice, I experienced a miraculous healing after receiving a throat blessing on the Feast of St. Blaise.

This song was playing in my head; here’s a passage from chapter 3 on why:

How Can I Keep from Singing • Traditional Quaker hymn
“Instead of being raw and fragmented, I began to feel whole. A sense of wonder and deep gratitude welled up inside. The following Sunday as I entered the church to go to Mass I was immediately struck with the knowledge that I had received a significant healing with that throat blessing. I couldn’t wait to tell the priest.
Thereafter during Mass I noticed that it became easier to sing the hymns. Buoyed, I pushed my voice a bit further each week. One day while driving home after Mass I sang some of the most challenging songs in my repertoire including “I Know That My
Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah and discovered to my delight that I could sing them just as I had before. My voice had been restored. I had received a physical healing along with the emotional and spiritual.” (from chapter 3, River of Grace)

New life after loss

River of Grace is also about new life. In the writing I learned that creativity is far more than being able to sing, dance, paint or write. Creativity is all about intention. As the Lord led me on my journey towards a new creativity in my life, I thought of Psalm 103, traditionally read during the Easter season, and this song:

Lord, Send Out Your Spirit (from Psalm 103) • Words and music by Susan Bailey ©2001 Susan W. Bailey
“If you recognize and accept the presence within of God’s Spirit, you will live a creative life. Since God is limitless, the possibilities of creativity are limitless too. You only need to believe it and take your own deep dive to discover the authentic person within, the one created in the image and likeness of God, the person you are meant to be. Nothing is too small or too insignificant. Nothing is too foolish or crazy. No effort is wasted. God has placed the capability in every person to be “great” even if that greatness is quiet, unassuming, and shared within a small circle. … Broken as we are, we can be made new, made whole though likely we will never be the same again … By being immersed in the river of grace, we can go on the adventure of a lifetime.” (chapter 5, River of Grace)

Working through fear

River of Grace is also about overcoming fear; stepping out and seeing life as a glorious adventure. Seeing obedience to God’s will as a series of wonderful “yeses” rather than onerous no’s.

This song came to mind:

Touch the Sky • Words and music by Susan Bailey ©1998 Susan W. Bailey
“I saw yet again that working through my fear was necessary in order to find and then be my authentic self. I could be like Gloria: passionate, confident, joyful, and enthusiastic, affecting those around me as a result. By believing in God’s love for me I could then become his emissary. I didn’t have to travel to Haiti; I only had to travel within to discover where the river of grace was leading me, and then commit to the journey. I had to get used to living with the uncertainty that is the fundamental part of self-discovery. It required being alert and awake to that quiet voice of God inside of me, his gentle hand nudging me this way and that. It gave new meaning to the scripture to “Beware, keep alert” (Mk 13:33). We must be alert and awake at all times to God’s call. This is what it means to be truly present to each and every moment. And if we pay heed to such moments, we won’t have the time to worry about the future or regret the past.” (from chapter 6, River of Grace)

So that’s the big reveal! This project has been my life for the last two years and a lot of the transformation I write about happened as I was writing the book. Gotta love the immediacy of the Holy Spirit at work.

Ave Maria Press is everything everyone said it would be. Totally professional, really helpful, and daring, taking chances on newbies like myself. I am so honored to have a book published by them.

You can order River of Grace (the book) through Ave Maria Press and Amazon. Don’t forget to write a review after you’ve read it!

The CD will be available by the end of October; I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

Fundraiser almost over; still need your help

I hope you are enjoying these clips from the new CD. With the deadline of October 15 looming just around the corner, I still need much help in meeting the goal of raising $1600 to pay for the making of the CD. You can donate at Every dollar counts. If you can only give $5 or $10, I will be so grateful. And for those who can give more, I am offering some rewards which I think you’ll appreciate.

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Preview from the River of Grace Soundtrack: “Spirit of Life:” Ever wonder how a song is recorded?

Have you ever wondered just how a song is recorded? It’s rather like building a building from the ground up, or making a layer cake. Here’s a simple demonstration from the recording of “Spirit of Life” (written by Carolyn McDade, Surtsey Publishing Company) for my River of Grace Soundtrack CD:

Recording is a long and tedious process of such layering but it’s fun and rewarding too when you hear the final product. Besides the layering of vocals, instruments are added in (more than you can imagine!). Then the engineer (in this case Ron) makes sure every little piece can be heard – this is done by something called panning. When you listen to a stereo recording through headphones you can pick out how there’s a little guitar here, a little percussion there … it’s all quite fascinating to figure out just what is in a recording of your favorite song.

Special effects are added in as well (such as putting a little echo into the voice, known as reverb. Without reverb, it sounds like you’re singing in a small room. With reverb, it can sound like you’re singing in a cathedral with slate floors (or something a little smaller).

This is just the beginning of the process for “Spirit of Life;” very soon I can show you the final result.

By the way, here’s a peak at the cover for the CD. Longtime readers of Be as One will recognize it:

cover front only for web

8 days left … need your help!

With just 8 days left in the campaign I really need your help! Please visit my Indiegogo site at and contribute what you can. And thank you!

Thank you to all who have pre-ordered River of Grace! You can find it on

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river firstJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
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Three ways your smart phone can strengthen your faith

This is from my recent Tech Talk column on Portions of this article were taken from my upcoming book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times, from Ave Maria Press. It is available  on Amazon.

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You and your smartphone are tied at the hip. Emails, phone calls and Google Calendar reminders direct your day’s activities. What if that same smartphone could help you develop spiritual discipline? Continue reading “Three ways your smart phone can strengthen your faith”

Celebrate with Song: “Teach Me to Love”

Andy Morffew Singing in the Rain with words featuredCelebrating second chances in song

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“Teach Me to Love,” recorded in 2000, is one of my favorite songs for several reasons.

@Peta_de_Aztlan Mother-Teresa-collage
@Peta_de_Aztlan Mother-Teresa-collage, Flickr Creative Commons

It’s about Blessed Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa died right around the same time that Princess Diana died. With Diana dominating the headlines, there was very little attention focused upon what had been a living saint. It was then that I sat down and wrote “Teach Me to Love” so that I could honor this woman small in stature who loomed large in her service to the poor. Continue reading “Celebrate with Song: “Teach Me to Love””

A simple prayer reflection for Good Friday

This is from my latest column on It is taken from the Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary booklet.

photo taken at Betania II, Medway, MA – from the Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary

Much has been said by wiser minds on all that took place on Good Friday. As I cannot add anything to enhance these insights, I thought instead to offer you a simple meditation on the crucifix as a way of honoring and learning from our Lord’s great suffering for us.

Gazing upon the crucifix, begin by reciting or chanting “Lord, have mercy” five times (you can chant the phrase by just singing the same note for each word). Each time it is recited, focus on a wound on Christ’s body.

For example, recite “Lord, have mercy” and meditate on Christ’s feet. Recite it again and focus on the left hand. Recite it a third time and meditate on the right hand. Recite it again and gaze on the wound in his side. Then recite it a fifth time and focus on the head.

Repeat this cycle eight times, thus reciting or chanting the prayer forty times in total.

In my meditations I found, for example, that as I focused on the nail marks in His feet, I thought about where those feet had traveled. I studied the wounded hands and wondered whom they had healed. I thought about his heart, pierced and yet so full of love. I thought about the head and the emotional and mental agony he went through, and yet also marveled at all the wisdom and knowledge that resided in that head. I recalled his teachings, exhortations, and words of comfort.

These are just some of the places where this meditation can take you. May the Spirit of the Living Lord guide you as you gaze upon his wounds and contemplate his love.

For a further Good Friday meditation in video and song, click here.

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Song that inspires prayer for our nation and the world

The world is a scary place and lately it’s been getting to me. I imagine it’s getting to you too. Are you finding yourself more anxious than usual?  Mine is certainly not helped by morbid curiosity over the news.

And I’m wondering why I’m grinding my teeth more than usual?!?

I came across a song yesterday that affirmed what I was feeling when I wrote the previous post

Prayer is the answer.

The song is called “That’s Why I Pray” and it’s performed by Big and Rich and written by Sarah Buxton, Danelle Leverett and Blair Daly.  The chorus says it all:

“Oh I’m begging for forgiveness / I wanna make a difference, even in the smallest way / I’m only one person, but I can feel it working / I believe in better days / That’s why I pray.”

Here’s some background on the song itself, and a review of the song.

This is the perfect song for this time in our lives.

There was another song released years ago, written and performed by Michard Card especially for the National Day of Prayer. It’s called “Heal Our Land” and it seemed appropriate to include it here too:

Think of these songs and let’s offer unending prayers for our nation and the world!

Click to Tweet & Share: Song that inspires prayer for our nation and the world–seems like we need this more than ever!

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